TUSCALOOSA (AP) — The city of Tuscaloosa eased pandemic restrictions and began allowing bars to reopen with limits Tuesday, days after the University of Alabama reported nearly 850 new cases of the coronavirus, which has affected more than 2,000 students at the school.
The change followed complaints from bar owners that a two-week shutdown, meant to stem the spread of the illness on campus, was unfair and hurting business. But critics charged that allowing bars to reopen after the closure would make it easier for the new coronavirus to infect people.
School and city officials said the university appears to be headed in the right direction in combating the virus despite reporting 846 new cases Friday. That equaled 121 new cases daily from Aug. 28-Sept. 3 as opposed to more 160 new cases reported each day from Aug. 25-27.
"Although far from over, this positive trend provides an opportunity for a limited reopening of bars which have sacrificed a great deal to protect our healthcare system and economy,” Mayor Walt Maddox said in a statement announcing the reopening.
Bars, including those popular with students in an area near campus called “The Strip,” will be subject to capacity limitations. Also, patrons can be served only when they are seated, and curb parking along The Strip will be blocked at night to allow more space for people waiting to get in bars.
Some bars tried to lure patrons by announcing the reopening on social media with drink specials and games.
Public health officials are worried about an uptick in cases in Alabama that began after public schools, colleges and high school football games all resumed last month.
More than 133,000 people have tested positive for the illness in the state, and more than 2,200 have died. There were about 333 new cases per 100,000 people in Alabama over the past two weeks, which ranks fourth nationally, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.
While the virus causes only mild to moderate symptoms for most people, it can be deadly to the elderly and people with other health problems.